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Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to Manage the Winter Blues

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Do the winter months get you down more than you think they should? Do you find yourself not wanting to go out, socialize or perform daily tasks? Do people ask you, “What’s wrong?” to which you reply, “It's blah out there?” You could be experiencing a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Winter blues is a general term not found in disease classification, but it’s a term thrown out over much of the U.S. While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it’s believed to be caused by a hormone or chemical imbalance. It’s also often attributed to a lack of vitamin D production as the clouds roll in and the sun stays hidden. Regardless of the cause, physicians agree the experience is real. The United States Social Security Disability Guidelines even includes extreme cases of SAD as a reason to be temporarily or permanently disabled.

If you find your mental health struggling during the winter months, here are some things to consider.

Ask for Help

It is important to discuss your mental state with your doctor so you can take prompt action if it becomes worse or debilitating. An open and honest discussion with your practitioner is always in your best interest for both mental and physical health. In most cases, your doctor can help you fight the blues if they become more than you can handle.

Practice Healthy Habits

In stressful times, make time to take care of yourself. Regular exercise and a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables is a great start and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. If you can do your exercise outdoors or even by a window, take it. The extra exposure to the sun can help balance your body, mind, and spirit.

Try Light Therapy

Depending on the severity of SAD symptoms, some doctors prescribe light therapy. With light therapy, you are exposed to light that is brighter than the natural indoor lighting you’d get during darker months, such as special UV lights that mimic the sun. This tricks your body into resetting its clock. These types of lights can be purchased online for reasonable prices and have uses beyond SAD such as jet lag, sleep disorders, sleep cycle adjustment and even dementia.

Explore Counseling

Counseling is a non-invasive option that helps many suffering from depression, including SAD. However, if you’re not ready to take that step, reach out to your social circle. Even if you don’t discuss your mental state directly, reaching out and connecting can have several health benefits such as lowering your blood pressure and, in some studies, increasing your life span.

Most importantly, if you or someone you know is having a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are trained to help people in acute distress and assist with prevention and crisis resources.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.

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